Debra J. Saunders

Jerry Brown has a secret plan to balance the California state budget. When the state attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial nominee recently visited the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board, he brought with him a large three-ring binder with his ideas on how to bring state spending back into the black. But he wouldn't tell us what was in the book.

I asked him what he, as governor, would do that state employee labor unions, which are spending millions to get him elected, won't like. He answered, "Well, I'm certainly not going to tell you now."

And: "I'm not going to reveal my negotiating strategy now. I'm going to try to push everybody together."

Also: "The next governor has to be an honest broker, somebody that people feel is being straight and is talking to them in a real way. I think I can do that."

This is talking in a real way? Trying to figure out what Brown means is like trying to decipher the Da Vinci Code.

When Editorial Page Editor John Diaz asked what tough calls Brown was willing to make, he answered, "There's only a process that will lead us to where we're going."

When Diaz asked how Brown might want to change Proposition 13, Brown said he had no plans to change it in his notebook. But: "The way I would put it is everything is on the table and everyone's at the table."

Brown is the first candidate for governor in memory who is running for office on no platform so that he can be elected with no mandate.

I have criticized GOP gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman for putting out a glossy 48-page platform that makes the $15 billion in her proposed "spending reductions" appear too easy. For example, while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been struggling to furlough and lay off state workers, Whitman proposes "voluntary retirements" to vacate 40,000 positions over four years. Call it no-pain austerity.

At least if Whitman wins, the Legislature will understand that voters have spoken and that they want Sacramento to shave the size of state government. What will they think if Brown is elected?

Spokesman Sterling Clifford explained Brown's position-lite approach this way: "The reason that there's a logjam in Sacramento is not for a lack of ideas, but a lack of willingness to compromise. Everyone comes in with rock-solid positions they won't move on."

But if Brown goes to Sacramento with practically no positions, Sacto pols are likely to conclude that they can smush him like a cupcake.

Or they might conclude, as Whitman spokesperson Andrea Jones Rivera put it, Brown "has a plan -- it is to maintain the status quo in Sacramento."

Debra J. Saunders

TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Debra Saunders' column. Sign up today and receive daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.